THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 23, Season 12
Sunday, February 26, 2023
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Kenny Chiu, Former Conservative MP
Dick Fadden, Former CSIS Director
Anita Anand, Defence Minister
Mercedes Stephenson: Explosive allegations about how and who China used to interfere in Canada’s federal elections. Is it time for a public inquiry?
I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to The West Block.
Intelligence leaks are raising questions. Was the Prime Minister’s Office warned about a Liberal MP and a Liberal fundraiser who sources say CSIS was watching?
Canada is sending more military aid to Ukraine as the country marks one year since Russia’s invasion. But is the government doing enough to boost the capabilities of the Canadian Armed Forces here at home? We’ll ask the minister.
Intelligence sources allege that a sitting Liberal member of parliament is a witting affiliate of the Chinese government’s attempts to interfere in Canadian elections. It’s the latest bombshell in a series of top secret leaks, renewing concerns over interference in Canada’s democracy and elections in 2019 and 2021.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says foreign interference is a real threat, but dismissed some of the criticisms as partisan. He also called the intelligence leaks inaccurate.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Foreign countries are trying to undermine people’s confidence in our democracies and destabilize those democracies. And when we lean in on partisanship around this, we’re actually helping them in doing their work of sowing confusion and mistrust.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Joining me now to talk about this is Global News investigative reporter Sam Cooper; former CSIS director and national security and intelligence advisor to the prime minister, Dick Fadden; and former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu. Thank you all for joining us.
Sam, a really explosive story that you’ve broken here, alleging, you know, things that are remarkable about a sitting member of parliament, who by the way, vehemently denies that any of this is true. He says it’s all false. What are your sources telling you about this member of parliament? Who is it? And does the Prime Minister’s Office know.
Sam Cooper, Global News: We’ve reported that three weeks before the 2019 federal election, the prime minister’s top aides were warned by CSIS in a classified briefing that this candidate, Han Dan, was part of a Chinese foreign interference network. Furthermore, he was associated to another alleged suspect, Michael Chan, a former Ontario Liberal minister. So this is a very serious classified brief to the prime minister’s top aides, and CSIS was asking the Prime Minister’s Office to rescind Dan’s nomination, a very serious warning. They’re telling the prime minister essentially, you have a candidate that is working for China. The allegations, our sources say, is that Mr. Dan is a willing affiliate of this Chinese network that we’ve reported on interference in 2019 and 2021. So does the prime minister know what our sources say, is that the prime minister’s top aides were warned? They ignored the warning, allegedly. Mr. Dan won in 2019. He’s re-elected in 2021. Meanwhile, we have CSIS sourcing saying this is a concern and he’s not the only one.
Mercedes Stephenson: Obviously that’s very concerning. I know Kenny to you a lot of this doesn’t come as a surprise. You have long alleged that the reason why you lost the election was due to Chinese interference in your riding. What was your experience with that?
Kenny Chiu, Former Conservative MP: Well Mercedes, I just want to have a minor correction of what you said. I’ve been saying that the Chinese interference, it’s a contributing factor to my loss. Now it—you know, you can never decide whether there’s an exclusive reason or not. What I’ve experienced here locally is that within a very short period of time, less than two years. Supporters of mine all of a sudden turn… becomes very angry and emotional to me, personally. And they will shut the door behind… in front of my face and they would… used to plant lawn signs supporting me and they would tell me that they don’t even want to vote for me. And all the difference is just within 22 months of time and it’s all because of information that is being circulated among them in WeChat and also WhatsApp that somehow convince them that I’m anti-Chinese, that I’m a racist, that I’m anti-China.
Mercedes Stephenson: And why do you believe that those rumours and those untrue stories came from Beijing?
Kenny Chiu, Former Conservative MP: Well there are sanctioned articles that are being published in WeChat that we know only sanctioned information can be published… publicised in WeChat and get circulated there. And these… this information article, you know, would portray Conservatives as anti-Chinese, that Erin O’Toole, it’s going to ban, of all things, WeChat, that Kenny Chiu is going to put Canadians of Chinese descent into jeopardy, that they are risking $400 thousand penalty because of my private member bill to have a foreign interference registry created.
Mercedes Stephenson: You know I want to go to you on this Dick because I get asked this question a lot by viewers, by people who are reading the articles. They want to know, is the government legitimate? Was the election affected on a grand scale? Do we know that information? Is there a way to find that out?
Dick Fadden, Former CSIS Director: Well I think to be practical about it; we have to admit that Chinese interference efforts in Canada are targeted. They’re not targeting every constituency in Canada. Everything that I’ve seen or read suggests that it’s less than two dozen, and they may or may not have been successful in influencing those two dozen, so all of the remainder of those numbers would have determined in the end, the final outcome. So I think fundamentally, the overall outcome, as the prime minister says, absolutely legitimate. Individual constituencies, different issue.
Mercedes Stephenson: Sam, I think one of the questions has been why politicians have not been willing to do something about this, that the foreign agent’s registry is an example of that. It exists in other countries. It doesn’t exist here yet. The government is committed to sort of holding a public look into whether or not they should have one. What do your sources allege the holdup is on the government being willing to take action to stamp out—I mean as much as you can, it’s tough with China—but to take some actions to at least make it harder for foreign governments to interfere.
Sam Cooper, Global News: I think two main points. One of them connects to what Kenny said about being attacked. Look, a major bombshell in our report from several days ago is that CSIS reporting, according to our sources, says that Michael Chan, a former member of parliament, legislature in Ontario, promised to attack critics of the Chinese regime and was a friend of the consulate. So if we see politicians getting targeted for any statement about China, it just raises huge questions about other politicians in Canada who may be tasked to attack them. Furthermore, what Canadian politician wants to go into an election with negative information about them. So could this explain why the Liberal government, or other governments, don’t want a registry? They don’t want to go into the next election facing the real concern that when they knock on doors, people will not be receptive because they will be called anti-Asian or racist. Of course, there’s fundraising issues that we believe…or that is, our sources say, Mr. Chan the subject of our story, is a huge fundraiser for the Liberal Party. Does it raise questions why they may not want to look too seriously at allegations against him?
Mercedes Stephenson: And Mr. Chan as well has denied these allegations. He says that they are uncatogorically untrue.
Dick, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral commissioner for Canada has said that we probably need a public inquiry to look into this to determine whether or not it’s the case. As a former national security and intelligence advisor, do you think that a public inquiry is needed to sort this out and to get to the bottom or what we do and didn’t know and what happened?
Dick Fadden, Former CSIS Director: Well I come to this conclusion somewhat reluctantly because there’s a history in Canada of a lot public inquiries that have gone nowhere. Having said that, a number of them have been very, very useful. I think in this case, the allegations are so serious they need to be looked into. So the question is: If you don’t do a public inquiry, who does it? I think the logical place would be parliament, but it has become so partisan that I think that this particular kind of topic would be almost impossible for them to look at objectively. So I think the public inquiry is really the route to go. It should be given a limited mandate so that they report, you know, well before the next election. There should be an inquiry under the Inquiries Act so that they can call, subpoena people and documents, if need be. And I can’t see any compelling reason not to do it in the public interest, except some partisan considerations that Sam has raised.
Mercedes Stephenson: And Kenny, I want to ask you about some of those partisan considerations because I’ve noticed a lot of Conservative sources publicly criticizing Justin Trudeau, but privately they seem a little bit concerned about talking about China as well now, too. Is this something that potentially affects both parties willingness to take action or to take bipartisan action, which would take the politics out of it, if both parties are on the same page? Then I’m not sure how China the same way favours one or the other. I’m really curious, your thoughts on that and how the Conservative Party and the opposition should deal with this.
Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a few seconds left, Dick, but what needs to change in the law?
Dick Fadden, Former CSIS Director: Well I think we need the registry and I think we need to make it very clear that political parties have a responsibility for ensuring that the Canada Elections Act is complied with. I think it’s dangerous to have the government try and regulate this too directly: partisan activities, political activities. But if you have a law, a change in the Elections Act that says very clearly: political parties have an obligation to do a, b, c, d about the receipt of money, how it’s accountable for, probably increase the resources allocated to the chief electoral officer. But I think we need to recognize, though, that there’s no silver bullet. This is going to take some effort dealing with social media and some of the ethnic press is going to take time. But I think the first thing we need to do is to talk about this seriously. And given the general environment Canada, I don’t think it’s going to work unless we have a public inquiry.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, certainly a remarkable story, Sam. It certainly seems the national security community is concerned and will continue to talk about this. Thank you to all three of you, for joining us today.
Sam Cooper, Global News: Thank you.
Dick Fadden, Former CSIS Director: My pleasure.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Defence Minister Anita Anand reflects on one year since the war in Ukraine and the spotlight that it shone on the state of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Mercedes Stephenson: Canada is sending four more Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, bringing the total number of tanks that we will be sharing with the Ukrainians to eight.
Since Russia’s invasion a year ago, Ottawa has committed $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine. The military spending comes at a time when the Canadian Armed Forces are being stretched to the limit here at home.
For more on this, I’m joined by Defence Minister Anita Anand. Welcome back, minister. Nice to see you.
Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Hi Mercedes, great to be here with you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Obviously, a very welcome announcement for Ukraine today. They’re receiving four more tanks. They have talked about the importance of that, but we’ve also heard about the constraints here at home. We only have 82 main battle tanks or had. That number is now down by eight, which means we’re contributing 10 per cent of the overall fleet. But I hear from military sources this is closer 20 per cent of Canada’s operational tanks that are going. Do you have any concerns about the Canadian military being able to train and do their jobs effectively when we are sending this much to the Ukrainians?
Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Just to be clear, we are sending more Leopard 2A4 battle tanks. That’s in addition to the four that we have already sent, bringing our total to eight. We are also sending a recovery vehicle, which is a type of tow truck for tanks, as well as 5 thousand rounds of 155 mm ammunition, spare parts and training as well. So this is a second package for Ukraine relating to the Leopard 2A4 tanks and we are at the forefront with our allies in terms of countries that have tanks on the ground in Poland, training on those tanks to be sent to Ukraine.
Now in terms of your question relating to the capitalisation of the Canadian Armed Forces, I am always concerned to make sure that the Canadian Armed Forces have what they need to serve and protect this incredible country. What that means is we’re going to be purchasing additional tanks for the Canadian Armed Forces. We are going to also undertake the defence policy update so that we can have an across the board look at what other capabilities the Canadian Armed Forces need. At the same time, we are increasing our defence spending by 70 per cent under strong, secure, engaged. We’re purchasing other capabilities such as the 88 F-35s and continuing to make sure that we do what is necessary to capitalize the Canadian Armed Forces. But certainly, it is a concern and Wayne Eyre and I are very much on top of it.
Mercedes Stephenson: What concrete steps has your government taken to start the contracts, for example, to replace these tanks? Is there a timeline? Have you initiated that process? I think that’s what a lot of the soldiers are anxious to hear reassurance on that it’s not just words but there’s actual steps being taken. Is that what’s happening?
Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Well to begin, in my conversations relating to tanks, I, myself, want to be assured that we have capabilities for the Canadian Armed Forces. It’s important for them in terms of their training, in terms of their development to have these and other capabilities. We also want to make sure that we have the most innovative and modern solutions. So it’s not necessarily the case that the Leopard 2A4 tank is going to be the replacement vehicle. We have to make sure that we are recapitalizing with the most up to date technology that is interoperable with our allies as we have done in the past, as were doing with the F-35s.
Mercedes Stephenson: So that sounds like it could be a while and I certainly understand the value of wanting to make sure you’re buying the right equipment, but it sounds then like contracts won’t be in place until after the defence policy review is completed and the government has had a chance to review it?
Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Well I think, Mercedes, what you have to look at is the global supply chain for items like tanks, for items like heavy artillery, for items like ammunition. All things that we want to ensure we have capitalizing the Canadian Armed Forces, but all things that other countries are also looking for. So one of the reasons I have been reaching out and meeting with suppliers recently is to ensure Canada’s priority placement in the supply chain and to make sure that we are doing whatever is necessary from a domestic innovation perspective also, to build up Canadian industry at the same time as procuring rapidly. So we’re working very quickly in terms of the Canadian supply chain, in terms of international procurements, as well as capitalizing Ukraine with the equipment that it needs to fight and win this war. And I’ll tell you that that is also a priority that we should be thinking about seriously, Mercedes, on this one anniversary of the illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin.
Mercedes Stephenson: And obviously, the Ukrainians are an extremely urgent situation. They’re actually in a war right now and there’s the balance between supplying that and maintaining our own capabilities.
One question I wanted to ask you about in terms of things Ukraine has been asking for. We all know UABs have been a huge part of the war effort there in terms of reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities. Canada manufactured the cameras that were on some. I have here, three letters that were sent to you and your government by the Ukrainian government, including the minister of national defence, asking for a Canadian made drone, called the SkyRanger R70. And it is actually capable of doing things like picking up cell phone signals, which has helped identify Russian positions for strikes in the past, for example, or monitoring for things like chemical and biological agents that are in the air. It looks to me, based on the dates off these letters, like the Ukrainians have been asking for these for over a year. Will your government supply the Sky Ranger drones to Ukraine as they’ve been asking for?
Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Well I like the question, Mercedes, because it does point to the fact that we have been in close conversation with the Ukrainian government about the equipment that it needs to fight and win this war. And indeed, I was in touch with Oleksii Reznikov today on the fact that we’re making an additional donation of four Leopard 2A4 tanks, to bring our total to eight.
In terms of the specific item that you mentioned, the drones, of course, we are looking at whatever aid we can put on the table for Ukraine. That’s why we are listed as among the top five of contributors of military equipment to Ukraine by an independent panel that has looked at this issue. So by all means, we are keeping all options on the table. That is my role as defence minister and our very close relationship with Ukraine demands no less.
Mercedes Stephenson: One last question for you, minister. The last time I spoke to the chief of the defence staff on the show, a few weeks back, I asked him whether Canada’s military is ready for the challenges ahead. And I was kind of stunned when his answer was essentially one word: No. He went on to say that it would be a challenge for Canada to meet it’s NATO requirements if Russia were to expand the war into a country like Latvia or Lithuania, and that we would be very, very hard pressed to be able to respond to that. Do you share that analysis of the state of the Canadian Armed Forces?
Anita Anand, Defence Minister: I actually think that what we need to keep doing is to ensure that we are procuring the capabilities that the Canadian Armed Forces need in the short and the long term. But I sleep at night, sometimes, knowing that the Canadian Armed Forces are doing whatever they can to protect and defend this country and that they are effective. Remember NORAD just few weeks ago, shooting down a suspected balloon over Central Yukon. That is NORAD doing what NORAD does: protecting and defending our skies. And Canadian Armed Forces members with their American counterparts have been working together side by side for 40 years in defending our country and defending our air space. And so I believe there’s more work to do, but I also believe that the Canadian Armed Forces are an extremely effective and dedicated organization and I, as minister, will do whatever is necessary to support the important work that they play in our country.
Mercedes Stephenson: So, would that be a yes or no to sharing General Eyre’s assessment?
Anita Anand, Defence Minister: That is an ongoing commitment to making sure that the Canadian Armed Forces have what they need, to execute on their most serious and significant responsibility for our country. And as General Eyre himself said, we need to keep purchasing capabilities not only for use here at home, but as we move to brigade level in Latvia, to help defend NATO’s eastern flank, for example, we also need to capitalize to fulfill those obligations. So we have multiple obligations domestically and internationally, and my job is to make sure that we execute on those.
Mercedes Stephenson: Not a yes or a no. Okay. Minister Anand, thank you so much for joining us today.
Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Thank you so much, Mercedes. Take good care.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, questions about what the government knew and when, when it comes to allegations of China’s election interference here in Canada and how that’s going to play out in the coming days.
Mercedes Stephenson: Now for one last thing, the Liberal government has come under increasing pressure on the China election interference file. Now a former CSIS director and a former chief electoral officer are calling for an independent inquiry.
The prime minister and those around him have continued to dismiss media reports about the PMOs knowledge, including a refusal to acknowledge whether senior staff were briefed about a Liberal MP who was allegedly a witting associate of Beijing’s interference network.
There has been little transparency other than politician say so that everything is fine. And with a minority government, we never know how far off the next election is.
Until politicians on all sides are willing to put aside partisanship and get to the bottom of Beijing’s medalling, Canadians and the media will have serious questions.
That’s our show for today. Thanks for hanging out with us, and we’ll see you next week.